The international response to the crisis in Libya has been remarkably quick and decisive. Where many other cases of mass atrocity crimes have failed to generate sufficient and timely political will to protect civilians at risk, the early response to Libya in 2011 has shown that the United Nations Security Council is able to give effect to the ‘responsibility to protect’ norm. While not an implementing party in a legal sense, the Australian government has taken a forward-leaning diplomatic stance in helping to mobilise broad support for addressing this crisis. In light of the ongoing political controversy over armed humanitarian intervention, the Libya case shows that state-based advocacy for R2P matters, given the on-going need to bolster the legitimacy of the principle. A discussion of Canberra’s diplomatic activity is a prelude to an examination of the proceedings of the UN Security Council and the two key resolutions, the second of which gave effect to the forcible action. The article then considers three dimensions of the Security Council’s implementation of the responsibility to protect: the language of the resolutions and the intriguing absence of a textual reference to the international community’s responsibility to act; the expansive mandate for civilian protection in Security Council resolution 1973; and the first unanimous referral to the International Criminal Court, with novel support from the United States of America.
The Arab countries straddle the lifelines of world trade. They link Europe to Asia and, with Iran, surround the Persian Gulf home to some 54 percent of global oil reserves. The region’s many international and domestic disputes, as well as restraints on political expression and human rights, have spawned extremism. In turn, the region’s endemic instability or perceived risk of instability has provided cover for some of the world’s most authoritarian and corrupt regimes. Until the turn of this year, the Arab countries had almost uniformly resisted the process of democratization that swept up other regions in recent decades. The series of popular revolts known as the Arab Spring, which began in Tunisia in the last weeks of 2010, has already wrought more change in six months than the region had seen in almost 60 years and there is more to come. Whether or not the Arab peoples’ aspirations for dignity and voice are fulfilled, and how smoothly transitions to democracy proceed, are not just great moral questions they will also determine the region’s stability and its economic prospects for decades to come. At the same time, getting on a path of sound economic growth will greatly enhance the chances that transitions to democracy succeed.
The democratic uprisings and consequent turmoil in the Arab world during the last 18 months have had significant impact on the geostrategic situation in the Middle East as well as on the policies of major regional and global powers. As the upheavals continue to unfold, especially in strategically important countries such as Syria and Bahrain, they will continue to have a major impact on intraregional politics as well as great-power interests.